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Thursday, March 20

U.S. soldiers dodge Iraq missiles

By Military Times

DOHA, QATAR - Soldiers, Marines and airmen at bases along the Iraq-Kuwait border ducked into bunkers and scrambled into gas masks Thursday morning as loudspeakers and sirens blared warnings of incoming missiles.

No one was injured in the attack and military officials said none of the missiles appeared to have carried chemical or biological warheads.

U.S. officials claimed an American Patriot missile intercepted two of the incoming rockets.

Iraq's missile attacks came barely seven hours after U.S. warships launched more than 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles and a pair of F-117A stealth fighters dumped four 2,000-pound, satellite-guided bombs in what the Pentagon described as a "decapitation mission" to try to kill top Iraqi leaders, including Saddam Hussein.

At 10:15 p.m. EST, 45 minutes after the U.S. attack had been launched, President George W. Bush addressed the nation.

"These are the opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign," Bush said.

At American bases in Kuwait after the first alarm was broadcast, dozens of Marines at an airbase sprinted from their tents for the nearest bunker.

The troops along the border went to the highest level of chemical and biological protection: a full body suit, special boots and gloves, a hood and a gas mask.

About 10 minutes later, the all clear came and the voice on the loudspeaker announced that Marines could take off their gas masks but should leave on their protective suits.

As Marines gave a sigh of relief, the alarm sounded again and Marines again huddled in bunkers and put their gear back on.

What had felt both like a drill and the real thing put Marines in a posture they had yet to experience.

"I think everyone will be a lot tighter from now on," a pilot said.

At sea, the second Persian Gulf War began for the Navy about 5:00 a.m. local time when two cruisers, two destroyers and two attack submarines launched more than 40 Tomahawks "in response to a very limited window of opportunity for some significant military targets," said Lt. Cmdr. Mike Brown, spokesman for the Kitty Hawk Battle Group. Brown said the missiles were fired at "more than two military targets in the vicinity of Baghdad."

On the Navy cruiser Bunker Hill, 13 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched over a half-hour pe-riod on a gray, foggy morning. The Cowpens, a guided missile cruiser escorting the carrier Kitty Hawk in the northern Persian Gulf, fired more than 10 missiles, a spokesman said.

The launch took place one hour and 15 minutes after the expiration of the 48-hour deadline Bush issued demanding that Saddam and his sons leave Iraq or face a U.S.-led military strike aimed at deposing Saddam and ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.

The first pair of missiles was launched from the Bunker Hill in darkness lightened only by a heavily veiled, nearly full moon. As the Bunker Hill rapidly repositioned for the next launches, daybreak ap-proached and observers could see the black plume of smoke from the subsequent launches.

After the missiles were launched, spotters on the port bridge wing called out, "Happy trails forward!" or "Happy trails aft!" to inform the bridge that the missiles had safely left the tubes. Members of the crew not involved in the missions watched the launches, some with digital video cameras.

Asked if the launches had gone well, commanding officer Capt. Faris T. Farwell replied, "Just like it was supposed to, right."

Other Tomahawks were launched by the destroyers Donald Cook and Milius and from the attack submarines Montpelier and Cheyenne.

At an airbase near Iraq, where media have been allowed access on condition they not name the base or its host nation, the mission officially shifted from monitoring the southern no-fly zone to those of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A handful of F-16 Falcon planes attacked elements of Iraq's communications network, Col. Cesar Rodriguez said Thursday. Both Rodriguez and Air Force Col. Tom Jones, commander of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, stressed that an anticipated massive air attack on Iraq, expected for months as the opening move in a U.S. invasion, had not yet begun.

The Air Force"s F-16 and A-10 squadrons here launched far fewer sorties than the average day during the last few months of southern no-fly zone missions, Rodriguez said.

"TV is reporting that the war has started. Well, we've been getting shot at every day since we got here," he said.

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Military Times writers McMichael, Mark Faram, Gordon Lubold and Gordon Trowbridge are reporting for GNS.